Lizzie's Reviews > The White Darkness

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean
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's review
Aug 24, 10

bookshelves: 2010, young-adult, emily-s, borrowed, own
Read in August, 2010

On loan from Emily, hurray.

Wow, I loved this. Wow. These are some of the best characters I've read in a while. The characters are so crazy good it would be a great book even if it wasn't in Antarctica. But it is!

The narration and structure are so wonderful. Being in Sym's head is great. Exhorting herself, "marshal your facts". Talking constantly to "Titus," the long-dead explorer Lawrence Oates of the Scott expedition. Reflecting on her isolation.

Her backstory, with her deafness and her father's disturbing illness, is wrenching in every piece. It never really feels like flashbacks, everything we learn about her family and her school life, but since the book is mostly happening on this screwed up trip in Antartica, those things are about that too: "My father didn't like me, and now that he's dead, there's nothing I can do to make him like me. I thought I'd gotten over that. But wounds unheal here. It troubles me more and more, not less and less. You have to be pretty useless for even your own father not to like you." Ugh. Ouch. Ow.

And of course the whole situation is just so messed up. How did nothing prevent them from getting there? Uncle Victor flies right off the page with his freak flag immediately in the beginning, so it's clear you can't take him at face value as Sym does. (It was the paranoid cell phone contraption that did it for me. And when the woman in the shop asked Sym concernedly whether this man is her father, or if he's... something else.) He is defining the term "solo mission" here, because he's living a life and working an agenda that makes sense to no one else at all. Totally amazing to read, though.

So when their weird holiday escalates and makes these turns that take them to Antarctica and Sym is surprised by it all, you are too, but it's more like disbelief. And that disbelief hangs in there as stuff goes wronger and wronger once they're there. And it takes a long time before you and Sym catch up with what's really going on. Though honestly, I tend to like the mystery of YA conflicts a bit more than the inevitable telling.

So the story surprised me, the plot built and I really didn't know what was going to happen, and how bad it was going to get, and who was responsible for what disaster, and what would succeed and fail. It's frustrating and suspenseful. Sometimes Sym gets to impress herself and be resourceful and make a plan, but sometimes she just suffers.

You know. Because she is lost in Antarctica. Which would be pretty bad.

"'Unhappy people do the oddest, most terrible things, just trying to keep despair at bay. All you have to do is accept them... go around them... take evasive action.'"

4.5 stars, yay.

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